Remembering the Struma

Sarah Honig- Wednesday 3rd Mar 2004


The ill-fated Struma stayed largely forgotten this past Wednesday. Few, if any, paused to reflect, pay homage, even note the anniversary of the murder of nearly 800 Jews (103 of them babies and children) on this country’s veritable doorstep. The culprits included Arabs, Brits, Turks, and an international community, which quite literally couldn’t care less.

Sadly, after 62 years, even the Jewish state doesn’t care enough to remember - although that dreadful event remains potently relevant today, illustrating what happens when Jews rely on others’ goodwill.

This week in 1942 the Yishuv was shocked. For a fleeting moment, the episode generated a minor stir in America. But war news quickly overshadowed the tragedy, which eventually paled against the enormity of the Holocaust.

The Struma, a six by 16-meter Danube barge of 1830 manufacture, never excited popular imagination like the glamorous Titanic. It was only a pitiful peanut-shell of a boat, packed with 769 refugees bound for Eretz Yisrael, desperately fleeing Hitler’s hell.

It wasn’t struck suddenly. It was slowly tortured, underscoring with demonic deliberation how superfluous Jews were, just when the final solution’s monstrous machinery was switched into high gear. As its 71-day-long melodrama was played out on neutral Istanbul’s seafront before an indifferent world, the Struma embodied the total helplessness and humiliation of Jews without power.

The rickety vessel, outfitted with a motor for the first time, departed the Romanian port of Constanza on December 12, 1941. Somehow, after four hair-raising days (instead of the routine 14 hours), the unsteady Struma dragged itself into Istanbul Harbor. It couldn’t continue. Its contrived motor had chugged its last. There was no fuel, food, or water.

A handful of passengers held valid entry visas into Eretz Yisrael. All others were illegal. The hope, however, was that once in Turkey, they’d all be allowed to proceed to their destination, since, with Europe in the throes of war, thousands of Jewish immigration certificates remained unutilized.

BRITISH MANDATORY authorities refused unequivocally. The Arabs raged and rallied against giving haven to Jewish refugees. Eager to appease Nazi-sympathizing Arab opinion, Britain chillingly declared that under no circumstance would the Struma’s human cargo be unloaded in Palestine.

Moreover, Britain pressured Turkey not to let anyone off the crippled boat.

Obligingly, the Turkish premier argued that “Turkey cannot be expected to serve as a refuge or surrogate homeland for people unwanted anywhere else.” Thus hundreds were imprisoned in narrow, unventilated confines. The freezing hull below reeked, but there wasn’t sufficient room on deck. Refugees took turns to climb up for a breath of fresh air. There was no sleeping space for all, no infirmary, no galley, no bathing facilities, and only one makeshift toilet. Minimal food rations, provided by local Jews, were smuggled aboard after enough Turkish palms were greased.

During the Struma’s 35th day in Istanbul, the Wannsee Conference was convened in suburban Berlin to formally authorize “the final solution.” Hitler hadn’t overlooked this latest demonstration of utter callousness towards hapless Jews.

The British didn’t dignify most Jewish entreaties with replies. But on February 15, they announced they’d make an exception in the case of Struma children aged 11 to 16. Wartime rationing was cited as the reason kids younger or older couldn’t be admitted too. In the end, no child was freed from the Struma. (COMMENT - SOMEBODY PLEASE REMIND MR STRAW ABOUT HIS COUNTRIES ACTIONS THEN AND WHAT HE IS ATTEMPTING TO FORCE ISRAEL TO DO NOW!)

Meanwhile Turkey, egged on and emboldened by Britain, threatened to tow the floating death trap beyond its territorial waters. The Jewish Agency warned that “the boat is in a total state of disrepair and without life-saving equipment. Any sea journey for this vessel cannot but end in disaster.” Nevertheless, on February 24, the condemned Struma was tugged out to the Black Sea and left paralyzed, without provisions or a drop of fuel, to drift precariously.

The next day an explosion ripped it apart. In minutes it sank with all crew members and over 760 refugees. There was one survivor. The assumption is that the Struma’s coup de grace was delivered by a Soviet sub seeking Axis craft.

Today, to most Israelis, “Struma” is a curious street name in a few towns.

Even those who vaguely associate it with a boat rarely know details.

Politically correct authors and trendy pro-Arab filmmakers eschew the subject, preferring postmodern portrayals of Arab terrorists as Zionism’s victims. Israeli school children hardly encounter the esoteric story.

Oblivion is perhaps the greatest sin against the Struma but also against ourselves. If we forget the Struma, we forget why this country exists, why we struggle for its survival. We forget the justice of our cause.

Dimmed memory and perverse self-destructive morality hinder our ability to protect ourselves from the offspring and torchbearers of the very Arabs who doomed the Struma. They haven’t amended their hostile agenda. We just don’t care to be reminded.

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